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Price v. Clinton Police Department

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

March 4, 2018

Keith Jermaine Price, #112011, Plaintiff,
Clinton Police Department, Lt. Jones, S. Lawton, Detective Tyrone Goggins, Detective Shane Prather, Defendants.


          Jacquelyn D. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

         Report and Recommendation Keith Jermaine Price (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, brings this civil action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is a pretrial detainee at the Laurens County Detention Center and files this action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) DSC, the undersigned is authorized to review the Complaint for relief and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court. For the reasons below, it is recommended that this case be summarily dismissed.


         Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a Complaint on November 27, 2017, naming the following Defendants: the Clinton Police Department, Lt. Jones (“Jones”), S. Lawton (“Lawton”), Detectives Tyrone Goggins (“Goggins”), and Shane Prather (“Prather”). [Doc. 1.] Liberally-construed, Plaintiff's Complaint appears to allege claims for false arrest, negligent investigation, and defamation arising from his arrest by Defendants for a number of alleged offenses.[1] [Id. at 6.] For his injuries, Plaintiff alleges he is psychologically affected and he has been deprived of the “full enjoyment of my life” because he has missed his son's football games, lost his job, and cannot participate in his children's lives. [Id. at 8.] For his relief, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and asks that Defendant Goggins be terminated from employment. [Id. at 8.]

         While the Complaint is difficult to decipher, the crux of Plaintiff's allegations appears to be that Defendants unlawfully arrested Plaintiff as the result of a negligent investigation by the officers following a shooting incident involving Plaintiff. [Id. at 4.] The shooting incident, according to Plaintiff, occurred around 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. on October 30, 2017. [Id. at 6.] Plaintiff provides almost no factual allegations concerning the shooting or the circumstances resulting in his arrest. He merely alleges that the victim “displayed a gun first, and fired first;” that the victim sent threatening text messages to Plaintiff's phone; and that the victim possessed a “chrome revolver 385 or 387.” [Id. at 6.] Instead, Plaintiff's allegations primarily address the Defendants' alleged improper investigation of the shooting incident. Plaintiff contends that Defendants Goggins, Prather, and Jones failed to conduct a proper investigation because they would not listen to his side of the story regarding the shooting incident and, instead, believed the victim's version of what occurred. [Id. at 10.] Plaintiff also contends the Defendants failed to interview possible witnesses and did not test the victim for gun powder residue. [Id. at 6-7.] Plaintiff also asserts that the Laurens Police Department gave false information to the news media about Plaintiff that portrayed him in a negative manner. [Id. at 4.]


         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the in forma pauperis statute. This statute authorizes the District Court to dismiss a case if it is satisfied that the action “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” is “frivolous or malicious, ” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Further, Plaintiff is a prisoner within the definition in 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(c), and “seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Thus, even if Plaintiff had prepaid the full filing fee, this Court is charged with screening Plaintiff's lawsuit to identify cognizable claims or to dismiss the Complaint if (1) it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         As a pro se litigant, Plaintiff's pleadings are accorded liberal construction and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam). However, even under this less stringent standard, the pro se pleading remains subject to summary dismissal. The mandated liberal construction afforded to pro se pleadings means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which Plaintiff could prevail, it should do so, but a district court may not rewrite a petition to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999), or construct Plaintiff's legal arguments for him, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993), or “conjure up questions never squarely presented” to the court, Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). The requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).


         Plaintiff filed his Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which “‘is not itself a source of substantive rights, ‘but merely provides' a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). A civil action under § 1983 allows “a party who has been deprived of a federal right under the color of state law to seek relief.” City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey, Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 707 (1999). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). For the reasons below, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief and, therefore, this case is subject to summary dismissal.

         Clinton Police Department

         Plaintiff seeks relief against the Clinton Police Department. It is unclear whether Plaintiff uses the term “Clinton Police Department” in an attempt to name the building where police officers work or to name the police department “staff” as a whole. In either instance, such an entity is not a “person” amenable to suit pursuant to § 1983, and his claim is subject to summary dismissal for failure to state a cognizable claim. Miller v. Rock Hill Police Dep't, No. 2:09-cv737-JFA-RSC, 2009 WL 1160181, at *3 (D.S.C. Apr. 29, 2009), aff'd sub nom. Miller v. Rock Hill City Police Dep't, 333 F. App'x 703 (4th Cir. 2009).

         First, Plaintiff fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted under § 1983 because the Clinton Police Department is not a “person” amenable to suite. It is well settled that only “persons” may act under color of state law, and, therefore, a defendant in a § 1983 action must qualify as a “person.” See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978) (noting that for purposes of § 1983, a person includes individuals and bodies politic and corporate). Courts have held that inanimate objects such as buildings, facilities, and grounds are not considered a person and do not act under color of state law. See Nelson v. Lexington Cnty. Det. Ctr., No. 8:10- 2988-JMC, 2011 WL 2066551, at *1 (D.S.C. May 26, 2011) (finding that the plaintiff failed to establish that the Lexington County Detention Center, “as a building and not a person, is amenable to suit under § 1983”). In this case, Plaintiff names as a Defendant the Clinton Police Department, which is a group of officers in a building; as such, the Clinton Police Department is not subject to suit under § 1983. See Harden v. Green, 27 Fed.Appx. 173, 178 (4th Cir. 2001) (finding that the medical department of a prison is not a person pursuant to § 1983); see also Post v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 750 F.Supp. 1131 (S.D. Fla. 1990) (dismissing city police department as improper defendant in § 1983 action because not “person” under the statute); Shelby v. City of Atlanta, 578 F.Supp. 1368, 1370 (N.D.Ga. 1984) (dismissing police department as party defendant because it was merely vehicle through which city government fulfills policing functions). Because the Clinton Police Department is not a person amenable to suit under § 1983, Plaintiff's complaint against it should be summarily dismissed.

         Additionally, to the extent the Clinton Police Department is considered a municipal entity, it is subject to summary dismissal under municipality liability. A municipality or other local government entity may only be held liable under §1983 “where the constitutionally offensive acts of [] employees are taken in furtherance of some municipal ‘policy or custom.'” See Milligan v. City of Newport News, 743 F.2d 227, 229 (4th Cir. 1984) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)); see also Wolf v. Fauquier Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 555 F.3d 311, 321 (4th Cir. 2009) (“A county may be found liable under 42 U.S.C. §1983 [but] only ‘when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts injury.'”) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694). Further, the doctrine of respondeat superior is generally inapplicable to §1983 suits, such that an employer or supervisor is not liable for the acts of employees, absent official policy or custom resulting in an illegal action. Monell, 436 U.S. at 694-95. Plaintiff fails to identify any governmental policy or custom of Clinton Police Department that caused his ...

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